Memory lane – 40 years on

A self-select band of 1978 Graduates visiting the Wolfson Medical School Building, the University of Glasgow, on 5th October 2018.

On Friday and Saturday this week I met with ‘old’ medical colleagues whom I had not met for 40 years.  It was the 40th anniversary of the 1978 Gamma Year Club, the Medical class who graduated with me  from Glasgow University in 1978.

Time had worked on most physiognomies and some were unrecognisable, which was not surprising as they proved to be spouses of colleagues!  What did surprise me was that it was easier to recognise some of my colleagues by their voice.  It seems our voice changes less over time than our appearance.

There were various events scheduled for Friday and Saturday and I managed most of them and a few of my own.  The main event was the meal on Saturday evening, which I had planned to attend until the death of my brother Andrew changed my long-term planning and I had to return home late on Saturday afternoon.  Another close colleague, Moray Fraser, could not attend as his 93-year-old mother had passed away to her eternal rest the same week.  I hope to meet up with him at her funeral on Monday.

Dr John Shaw-Dunn re-addressing his former pupils forty years on – 5 Oct 2018.

The highlight was meeting our former anatomy lecturer, Dr John Shaw-Dunn, who ‘came out of retirement’ to take us down memory lane and to give us a tour of the Clinical Anatomy Skills Centre (CASC).  The smell of formalin told us we were on familiar and authentic turf.   Shaw-Dunn was a splendid teacher and used to draw beautiful diagrams on the blackboard.  Now updated with a whiteboard, he obliged my request to video him ‘in action’, with a brief sketch of the brachial plexus.  However, the photograph shows that he prefers and has ‘upgraded’ to an overhead projector.

Dr John Shaw-Dunn in loco

I have often quoted a saying from one of his early lectures in 1972: “Here at Glasgow, we don’t read textbooks – we write them.”  Bursts of that eloquence had not deserted him and were on copious display to delight his admirers at yesterday’s impromptu address.

I loved anatomy as it showed me the glory of our Creator in the intricacies of the human body.  It was fascinating to learn for the first time how muscles worked at the molecular level.  I still have my drawings and lecture notes and I expected to get a Distinction in the subject but medical politics intervened.  When I returned to medicine in 2000, after 20 years in the Christian ministry, possibly I should have considered radiology because the anatomy of the human body had not changed in the interim, unlike medical treatment and technology, which required a tremendous effort to assimilate in a short period of time.   There is now a shortage of radiologists, delaying many medical procedures.

This increase in medical knowledge reminds me of another anecdote from our student days, which I have often repeated.  At our 30th anniversary reunion at Fairmont Hotel in St Andrews in 2008, there were three 30 Years Progress presentations, in Bone Disease from Stuart Ralston at Edinburgh, in Inflammatory Arthritis from Tom Pullar at Dundee and in Gastroenterology from Colin Howden, translocated to America, each ‘at the top of their game’.  Ex-pat Colin reminded us on that occasion that Charlie Forbes in Glasgow Royal Infirmary told us as students that 50% of what we were being taught would probably turn out to be untrue in 30 years’ time.  The problem was – he didn’t know which 50% it was!  I have repeated this often, and David Jamieson told me that he did the same in his teaching classes.

Instead of capitalising on my knowledge of anatomy, on my return to medicine I went into the heart of clinical and acute medicine and caught up on 20 years of medical advances.  In the process I drafted a book on the experience, Rip Van Winkel returns to Medicine.

My trip down memory lane began at the top of University Avenue where the decorative gates record the names of early Principals, including Robert Boyd of Trochrig, in Ayrshire from where my forebears hail, who had the noted distinction of being principal of both Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities.

The medical reunion events on this occasion began with a tour around the new Wolfson Medical School Building, built since our student days and opened by the Princess Royal on the 3rd of April 2003.  There were many donors to finance the project and I noted two more Boyds, my father and my aunt, in the ‘gold brick’ section, as it was my first visit to the building.  We were shown the clinical skills lab and noted students sitting around or in tutorials.  Then we had a short presentation about the developments at Glasgow University, both in terms of the student curriculum and the £1.1 billion building refurbishments.

Surprisingly, as the top picture shows, the lecture theatre is quite small and cannot accommodate the three hundred or so students expected in this year’s intake of medical students. This is because the Wolfson was built in an era when problem-based learning (PBL) was the flavour of the month. This meant that students were taught in small groups rather than attending lectures, so a large lecture theatre was surplus to requirements – or so it was thought at the time. The PBL hegemony has been dismantled since then, but it has left its legacy.  The building has a huge atrium, where students sit on the floor without any seating, as well as a lecture theatre with inadequate seating. There is a lesson here and not simply the obvious one that one should not allow a new ideology to overwhelm conventional wisdom, especially at a time when capital projects are being determined, but it is also an example how intelligent people can meekly comply with authority figures.  This is a more serious issue and it is a sign of our times when political correctness is the flavour of the month. Christianity delivers us from such servile submission by teaching counter-cultural thinking and standards.

After Shaw-Dunn’s presentation at the end of the afternoon, I visited the Reading Room for old times’ sake, where I had spent many an hour studying in the 1970s.  This time I had my laptop computer, and how I wish we had such devices in the 1970s.  I was the first to use a PDA (personal digital assistant) in Raigmore Hospital in 2000 to record my copious note-taking.  Now everything is digital.

Outside Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s house beside the Glasgow University Library.

The next day, Saturday, began with a tour round Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s reconstructed house in the Hunterian Art Gallery beside the library, which had been demolished to make way for the current University Refectory.  It reminded me of my 30th wedding anniversary meal in House for an Art Lover, Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, one of CRM’s designs that had never been built in his lifetime.  Five years ago it had display boards of the 1938 Empire Exhibition held in Bellahouston Park, which my father attended as a young boy, who pointed out to me various features he had visited at that time.  It also reminded me that one of my friends is the first life member of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, a retired architect living in Lewis in a house full of CRM memorabilia.   Another of CRM’s house designs has been built near my former home in Farr, by Inverness.

The Refectory in the background.

This was followed by a visit to the famous Hunterian Museum where I saw Hunter’s copy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations signed ‘from the Author’, for it houses more than the anatomical specimens for which it is renowned.  There was a record of Scottish coinage since King David I and here I learned that Inverness has minted coins more than once, during the reigns of Alexander II and James I.   We passed the robing room reminding me of the occasion when my father Dr James Boyd and sister Dr Joan McDowell paraded as members of the Senate at the graduation of my son James in the Bute Hall.  There were many memories.

Standing in the Hunterian Museum, appropriately in the bowels of Glasgow University’s main building atop Gilmorehill, bypassed by many, were the bones of the largest dinosaur to walk on earth.  The whole skeleton was not there but only the bones of one of its legs, reaching to the ceiling and wobbling precariously as I walked around it.  Its knee was at the height of my neck and its thigh bone reached to the ceiling.  This is Diplodocus, the creature described by Job in the oldest book of the Bible, the oldest extant book in human history still read on a daily basis, whose contents I am in the process of making more readily available.  Job describes the activity and eating habits of this massive creature, to the consternation of evolutionists who do not understand mankind’s global history.

Putting the wooden anatomy head rests to good use: upcycling.

Only yards away, there is a display cabinet and a plaque reading: “The world’s most complete 330 million year old shark was found on the banks of a small stream in Bearsden, near Glasgow.  The preservation of the shark is so good that blood vessels and muscles can be studied along with the shark’s last meal.”  It is not explained how blood vessels can survive 330 million years.  This evidently throws doubt upon evolutionary timescales.  After all, Shaw-Dunn had just told us that his former anatomy dissection specimens lasted six months at best.  Further, having food in its stomach demonstrates that it was overwhelmed by sedimentary deposits so quickly that the meal was not digested.  This points to catastrophism in the geological record, only in recent decades being recovered from the dustbin into which evolutionary uniformitarianism tried to consign it.  “But facts are chiels that winna ding” as the Scottish bard put it.

More colleagues joined us, including Kathy Walsh who told me she worked in pathology and often met my father at pathology conferences.  While touring the Hunterian museum Alan Walker kindly showed interest in my portfolio career so I briefly described my four or more reincarnations.  After my mathematical and scientific interests at school, my first career was as a medical doctor, then as a minister of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, then a return to medicine in 2000, then combining these disciplines into Christian politics in 2006 and finally beginning to output my lifelong writing in my next publishing phase. However, these metamorphoses are a mere external description and do not explain the essence of the man. The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly ought to pause intelligent medics in their tracks and to remind them of the glory of their Creator Who has designed such an intricate genetic blueprint. It illustrates the metamorphosis in the spirit of man when the divine Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ regenerates the soul of man and makes him ‘a new creature’ 2Cor 5:17.  This is the essence of the godly person.  ‘By the grace of God, I am what I am’ 1Cor 15:10.

The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly should direct thinking people towards the rapid change in lifeforms through natural selection, rather than the current unsustainable paradigm of millions of years dreamed up in the evolutionary hypothesis.  It should also remind us of ‘the butterfly effect’ and chaos theory, another manifestation of the extraordinary intricasy of human existence on the surface of this extraordinary planet in our extraordinary solar system.

When our discussion turned to the distinctives of Christian politics, we were joined by Donald McGeachy who had a common interest in politics. Just as there is good and bad religion, so there is good and bad politics, good and bad lawyers and good and bad doctors. Intelligent people should lead the way in establishing the truth, but this is not often the case as pride can lead intelligent people into thinking that they have little to learn from others whom they judge as unable to teach them.

It was now late afternoon and I reluctantly took my leave of my former colleagues and went to visit the University Library, changed internally out of all recognition.  It had acquired an annex since the 1980s, expanding the width of every floor and adding to my disorientation.  I updated my Life Membership card and discovered I belonged to a rare and dying breed because life membership is no longer available to graduates.  I joined a half-hour tour to learn the layout and usage of the ‘new’ library, celebrating its 50th anniversary.  One lassie on this tour was beginning a Ph.D. in personalised medicine, a subject I had discussed with Shaw-Dunn only the previous day.  I noted that the medical floor was now shared with other disciplines and that the section of medical books is reduced to a mere four rows because most resources are now online.  I questioned locating the rare book section on the 12th floor at the top of the building.  It used to be in the basement, and I suppose the risk of flooding while putting out a fire in higher floors changed this location, but the towering infernos of recent times do not augur well for the top floor either.  Anyway, I settled down on the 10th floor, the theology floor, and worked on the exegesis of my Bible commentary until it was time to catch the bus back north.

As I struggled to recall colleagues’ names, even if I could recognise a face to put to them, I discovered the extraordinary fact that random names of long forgotten colleagues would come up into my memory, as if my memory was running through the vaults below Glasgow Royal Infirmary, dark, dusty and labyrinthine, to emerge with a long-forgotten name.  Memory is a wonderful and extraordinary thing.

It may be, as memory continues to wander through these sub-cortical corridors, that there may be more to add to this blogpost in due course.  To my former colleagues who stumble over this contribution to their memories, I would like to catch up on the rest of your story in heaven, because there is not enough time to do it here on Earth, but you will need to find your way there first.  The Way is a Person, and He will not fail you if you trust in Him.

Jesus said: ‘I am the Way to the Father’s house’ John 14:6.

Will you be among them?


10 Oct 2018: will you believe that BBC Newsnight finished tonight with a report that on average we can recognise 5000 faces?  How does this compare with recognising voices, and with faces that change over the decades?

11 Oct 2018: thanks to all those emailing me about Andrew’s passing.  I like to multitask and while picking up my emails I am watching the live repeat of Antiques Road Trip Series 12 Episode 4.  It has just shown at 22’20 auctioneer Catherine Southon at another Charles Rennie Mackintosh house, Hill House in Helensburgh, designed in 1905 as the family home for the Blackie publishing family.   After creating the Glasgow School of Art this was a rare domestic commission and the commentator said that despite international acclaim commissions were hard to come by at home in the UK.  Lorna Hepburn said that there were many avenues Mackintosh could have gone down, but the architectural avenue closed down partly because of the first World War and partly because of “his feeling that he was not appreciated, he was not understood by the Establishment.”  This clipping closed with a brief shot of the Scotland Street School Museum and the House for an Art Lover.  Mackintosh Queen’s Cross is the CRM Society’s International headquarters and it is the only church designed by Mackintosh to be built.

You can read comments from others below.


3 thoughts on “Memory lane – 40 years on

  1. My mother and I have just enjoyed reading your latest blog titled “memory lane 40 years on”. My mother knew some of the people you mentioned. The title of your blog brought back memories for me if I remember correctly in 1978 being in hospital getting my club foot sorted I think you were a doctor just starting out and you popped over to the ward in Yorkhill where I was a patient to visit me.

    With regards to the “memory lane” part of your blog, it reminds me of a few years ago, I happened to be sitting at the front room window and a car drew up at a house near to us which had just been emptied as the owner had passed away. I went out to say hello to what I thought were new neighbours who were movong into our street, only to discover the new “neighbour” was someone I used to play with when we moved to where we now live and I hadn’t seen her for many years.

    Had her mother NOT come down to see if she could give her a hand moving stuff into what was to be their new house, I doubt I would have realised that the female moving in was a former play-mate from years back. Memories Indeed


  2. Donald
    Enjoyed your reminiscence trip down memory lane very much – thanks for resurrecting some of my own memories of Glasgow University Library, 1971-76.

    Despite my background in archaeology, history, languages and literature, I was assigned initially to Floor One, the ‘physical and earth sciences division’, with Physics (Natural Philosophy), chemistry, engineering, maths and computer science, with extensive collections of books and periodicals. I was later elevated to Floor Two, mainly geography and geology, and lots and lots of maps, one of my enduring delights. I once discussed these placements informally with the University Librarian, the formidable R. Ogilvie Mackenna, and he summarised the decision to place me initially on Floor One as ‘your first lesson in librarianship’. In other words, organising and finding the books people need, not comprehending their contents, is the essence of librarianship.

    I moved to Inverness in 1980, and apart from a career break, 1985-92, served out my time there, retiring in 2009. Now, I don’t know when I ever found the time to work!

    I got on well with most of the staff and students at GUL, but found many of the academic staff arrogant and difficult. I remember fondly when Ogilvie Mackenna ‘carpeted’ a professor who had shouted at one of the young issue desk girls, leaving her in tears – he was told in no uncertain terms to apologise to her in person or his library privileges would be suspended.

    I must visit GUL soon to inspect the new layout. No comment on the rare books section except that the views from the top floor are unsurpassed (all the way to the Paps of Jura) so I am sure the staff are pleased about that, after the windowless basement.

    best wishes


    1. Donald

      Thanks for the interesting feedback, Norman.

      It is remarkable that our times overlapped (1972-78) but we only met when you came to Inverness. I remember your excitement when you met someone who not only knew about the book you were consulting in the old Inverness Kirk Session Library but who could act as a future resource.

      For the benefit of others reading this blogpost, Norman is integral to local research in Inverness.


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